In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Poland, where things got better and better as the weekend went on, it was just a shame about the rock in SS14...
I think Rally Poland was a productive event for us, although it was unfortunate that we had to finish under Rally 2.
The rock which caused us some suspension damage in SS14 - Goldap 1 - wasn't visible on the recce and it caused a lot of dramas for a lot of crews. Of course it's disappointing that we were one of those crews, but I think we just have to put it down to experience and concentrate on all of the positive steps we made.
The fact Poland was new to everyone this year – or as good as given it was last part of the WRC schedule in 2009 - certainly helped level the playing field and it was great to see that my splits were good when compared to those of the leaders.
The recce went well for me but there was a lot of mud and standing water so it was difficult to know how much of that would dry up when we came to tackle the stages in the rally proper. Shakedown was then pretty straight forward – two runs to ensure that all the systems were working well - and then we started the 'real' action on Thursday afternoon.
The stages were unbelievably fast and it took me a little longer than I would have liked to get up to speed. But once I found my rhythm, I was happy with our pace.
Indeed by the end of Friday we had settled into a good rhythm and I felt much more comfortable. I think we were able to set some good times as a result and to finish the leg in ninth wasn't too bad. I still need to work on being a bit faster over the opening split. On the longer stages it doesn't make so much of a difference, but when you have a succession of short stages like we did on this rally you just can't afford to settle into your pace over the first few kilometres. That's what I need to focus on.
We then were hoping to continue learning on day three, but that was of course when we went out in SS14 – the fourth test of the leg.
The rock was on the inside of a corner when the car was on full lock so I'm not surprised that a lot of crews were caught out. It wasn't visible on recce, and when the wheel is turned like that, the weakest part of the suspension is fully exposed. There's not a lot you can do and Mads Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala also hit it.
To be honest I don't think many crews had that rock in their notes so we just have to put it down to experience. We worked really hard to try and repair the damage and continue, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. It was a shame because we had got to the point where we felt comfortable to up our game and push a bit harder. These things happen though, and you just have to accept them and remain positive when they do.
I was very pleased with the progress in my driving up until that point and I was looking forward to getting back out there on the final day. It was good that we could re-start on Sunday. The times weren't fantastic being first on the road, but it was important to get the mileage and improve the pacenotes for next year.
As usual the team once again gave me a perfect car for the four days. We had a really good pre-event test so there weren't too many set-up changes to make – just a few here and there to compensate for the second passes and so on.
As for the event itself, the atmosphere was amazing – although maybe more so for me as I was servicing next to Robert [Kubica] who is something of a big deal in Poland!
There was a long road section with the stages in Lithuania on Friday and it was a shame that two stages had to be cancelled.
Were they right to cancel the two repeat tests in Lithuania? I think they were. The ruts were huge and you could see how much time those further down the field lost on the first pass alone! It would have been difficult even for our world rally cars, let alone the two-wheel-drive entrants further down the field. If I'm honest, the Lithuanian stages weren't really suitable and it was a bit of a shame to go all that way for what was very little mileage.
The stages in and around Mikolajki, however, were fantastic to drive, so I think the rally should concentrate on that area in the future. All in all I think the organisers did a good job and I hope we get the opportunity to come back and experience the Polish stages again next year. Poland certainly deserves it places in the WRC.
We now have a bit of break before Rally Finland and I'm going to have a full week and a half to relax at home following what has been a really busy first half of the season in the 'office'. Then there are a few PR events to attend followed by Finland preparation and testing.
The team will do a week of testing before the rally and for me it will be mainly about finding the optimum set-up and getting to spend more time behind the wheel to build my confidence driving on the Finnish roads.
I'll also be going along to Mikko [Hirvonen]'s test so that I can learn as much as I can ahead of the event.
I'm really looking forward to going back to Finland. It is rallying's spiritual home and the stages are incredible. It's hard to put into words, but when you go to Rally Finland there is an atmosphere in the service park that you don't get anywhere else in the world. It's one of those rallies that every driver dreams of doing well at and I'm sure I'll be able to take advantage of Mikko's advice and guidance.
Coming from Poland, the sheer speed shouldn't come as so much of a surprise either. I've never completed the whole event in a four-wheel-drive car so there will be an element of gaining experience in that sense, but I'm hoping that we will also be able to show some good speed. We'll need to gauge the rally as it happens, but I'm looking forward to making another positive step ahead of what will be a series of more familiar events.
Hwyl am y tro*,
To keep tabs on the M-Sport World Rally Team's progress in 2014, simply follow this link: www.m-sport.co.uk
*Bye for now